Well, it's about time. Finally, somebody in Brisbane has set up a fish and chip shop based on sustainable seafood.
If you're like me, you love your seafood but you have a conscience. You wonder whether prawns really are overfished, if farmed seafood is better or worse for the environment than wild catch, and which fish is still okay to eat. But it seems impossible to get clear information to make good decisions.
Swampdog owner Richard Webb (formerly proprietor of Sprout in Auchenflower) felt the same way.
A keen angler who'd also cooked seafood in his restaurants for years, he had a light-bulb moment while listening to a talk on carbon emissions at the Woodford Folk Festival. When the speaker pointed out that a large proportion of carbon emissions come from the production and distribution of food, Richard decided he needed to look further into the issues around sustainable seafood.
The end result of his quest for knowledge is Swampdog, a funky fish and chip shop that opened in a fomer corner store on Vulture Street at South Brisbane about a month ago. Its genesis has involved much research and many conversations with conservation groups (like the Australian Marine Conservation Society), farmers and commercial fishermen.
The result is a fish and chip shop that has as its motto 'Good for you - Good for me - Good for the sea.' Seafood is sourced as locally as possible (no imports), does not come from overfished stocks, and is generally rated as sustainable by conservation groups. Where it comes from farmed fisheries, Richard has checked out the operations to satisfy himself that they're adequately addressing environmental issues.
So what does that leave on the menu? Well, plenty of delicious offerings, actually -- mackerel, whiting, saddle tail, sardines, barramundi, octopus, calamari, prawns and crab.
Traditional fish and chip meals range from $9.90 to $13.90. But you can also get sophisticated offerings like sardines on sourdough ($12.90), mackerel cutlets with pineapple salsa ($13.90) and a tempura dinner ($19) that includes temptations like whiting with ginger prawn mousse.
On the day I visited, I had two young friends with me who were on school holidays. They got to choose, which meant that we went with crumbed calamari and chips ($11.90) and battered whiting and chips ($9.90). While his sons (who work in the kitchen) cooked our meals, Richard gave us some free cups of lemon cordial, which we enjoyed sitting at an outside table.
Our name was called ten minutes later and I went in and got our food (Swampdog is counter service only). The calamari were cut into chunks (not rings, unlike the imported, frozen product) and were tasty, fat and nicely crumbed, with a pleasant aioli. Our three largeish whiting fillets were coated in a light batter, and were also nice (though too oily for my adult palate). Both meals came with generous servings of chips, which my young companions praised highly.
After we ate, I got chatting with Richard about Swampdog, and the need to balance environmental sustainability with good business decisions.
For example, there are no hand-cut chips here (this is, after all, not a fine dining restaurant) but Richard does source his frozen product from an Australian supplier. Likewise, meals are not served on china (which would substantially add to the shop's overheads and meal prices) but are served in disposable containers that have been chosen for their environmental credentials. Used cooking oil from the shop is also recycled.
As well as taking an innovative approach on environmental issues, Swampdog has come up with a fresh decor that complements the menu. In addition to a boldly decorated interior with large communal tables, it offers footpath dining and a rear 'courtyard' (a bit of carpark behind the shop that's been commandeered for seating). While both are basic (e.g. large tables made from old doors, fold-up chairs), they have their own charm. A large sign in the courtyard invites customers to bring their own alcohol and even their own glasses, should they wish.
Swampdog is trying to break the mould in a number of areas, and I hope it succeeds. After all, it's only when business really buys into sustainability that we'll see substantial change on this issue. Eventually, Richard hopes to set up more Swampdogs. In the meantime, his South Brisbane outlet is offering good seafood that you can eat with a clear conscience.
PS In case you're wondering -- 'swampdog' is the Cajun word for 'alligator' in America's deep south.